Finally, after all the talk about it, the day has finally come.
Yes, Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s homecoming game is today, but it’s also the day Mississippi Valley State brings the nation’s third-ranked defense to town.
Today, UAPB’s offense will be tested by a team that allows only 282.57 yards per game — or will Valley’s defense be tested by an offense that has had games of 466 and 510 total yards?
“We’re just planning to play our ball,” UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson said. “We know they’ve got a good defense. They’re scrappy. They fly to the ball. We just got to do our assignments, fill our blocks, run the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball, and we’ll be all right.”
A year ago, it was hard for the Golden Lions to get some offense going at Valley, but it was enough to win 15-3. The Delta Devils held the Lions to 174 total yards and forced them to punt eight times.
Despite their defensive strengths, the Devils have only two victories this season — four in the last three seasons — and they are susceptible to allowing a moderate amount of points (23.4 points per game). But UAPB coach Monte Coleman believes the Devils play solidly all the way from the defensive line to the secondary.
“They’ve got good size and they play with an attitude,” Coleman said. “As a defensive coach, when you watch them play, you say this is how defense is supposed to be played. It didn’t just happen this year. This is how it was last year.”
So, the Lions know what to watch for today. They’re capable of breaking down that defense to Anderson’s specifications, averaging 364.4 yards per game. They’re also out to prove that last week’s 510-yard offensive clinic against Southern was no fluke, rather a sign of ability.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Valley coach Karl Morgan said. “They’re not a one-dimensional team.”
Besides, Coleman would like to see more from his team.
“I still think we have more in the tank,” he said. “I think we have more consistency in the tank. I don’t think we’ve contributed every game, all three phases, and I’m not just talking about the score. I’m talking about execution-wise.
“How we execute, protect the football, take the football, rush the football, stop the run, and all those things. Playing very solid on special teams, making teams have to go the long distance, that’s the way I feel. I feel we still have some of those reserves in the tank.”
The return of Justin Billings could give UAPB a boost.
The junior starting running back play his first game since a broken nose put him out of the victory over Jackson State on Oct. 6. His return will be big for a backfield that will miss redshirt freshman Aaron Lagrone for up to three weeks with a separated hip.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” Billings said of his return. “It’s been really two weeks (that I sat out). My legs feel rested. I feel good. I’m ready to play.”
What the Lions have done thus far has given them a two-game lead in the SWAC’s Western Division with four games to go. The excitement over their success adds to the anticipation of this homecoming event and makes Coleman feel good about his team’s possibilities.
“This is probably the best football team I’ve coached,” he said. “I’m adding all ingredients in there — being focused, practicing well, playing well — and it adds up to where we are right now.”